Adrián Flores and Dani Bassil on getting back to what made Clemenger great

By Ruby Derrick | 11 June 2024
Adrián Flores and Dani Bassil.

When Clemenger BBDO's new chief creative officer Adrián Flores got off the plane from Melbourne, he was straight onto a call with his team in the Sydney office briefing them on a pitch.

Although he’s still adjusting to not sprinting in American speed and having more time to think here, he says.

“We want to make sure that people talk about our work in the pub. The pub can be the gym, the mosque, the church, wherever you go - wherever people gather.”

His direction for the agency is not about being different. It’s about getting back to what made it great.

“I want us to rethink and refocus on what made us iconic. And that's the work we will push. It's not about changing stuff, it’s just about remembering who we are.”

Flores says he’s honoured to have the job as CCO. On adding value to an already distinguished agency, he says you're only as good as your last campaign. 

“The client gives you one go and then you've got to make it back. I can't be thinking about the past. I've got to be like, what's happening today and where do we need to be tomorrow? That’s got to be our focus as an ad agency. 

“We have to be constantly changing - that's how an agency lives and breathes so we've got to be looking forward. It doesn't matter what happened yesterday. What's happening next, where's culture going? How do we get our client partners ahead of that. That's my philosophy.”

He returned to Australia after more than a decade at agencies including Publicis New York and London, FCB New York, Marcel New York, and VaynerMedia. Flores also worked at Mojo in Sydney and during that time, Clemenger was always an agency he wanted to be part of.

One thing he always tells the younger ones on his teams is that imposter syndrome never goes away. 

“Every brief is the brief I'm about to get found out on so I come into every brief shit scared. Eventually something happens; the ideas come from the special secret sauce, but every brief always worries me because every brief is an audition to our clients as to why we should keep their business,” he says.

“So I'm worried about every part of every brief.”

Clemenger BBDO CEO Dani Bassil, who joined in January last year, always knows the agency will get there - because “advertising is a series of problems you have to solve every minute of every day”.

“The joy of this industry is watching that process.”

With the industry facing difficult economic conditions at the moment, consolidation is what’s important right now, she says.

“Clients don't want loads of agencies. They want one team that understands their business as well as they do and can help them solve their complex problems.”

For Flores, that consolidation helps with coherence. When there are multiple shops in on something, there has to be an idea, a brand device or a distinctive brand asset that can stretch across different touchpoints, he says.

“If people are running with that without understanding what it is, and there's not an essential authority that helps everyone march together, you just start looking schizophrenic as a brand.

“That's a big thing, especially for the type of clients we work with on the scale they have and the touch points they have with consumers. There needs to be that understanding that the consumer gets the same message or the right message in that moment. That comes from the coherence of the marketing and consolidation of services, which is why we're expanding with production and other parts within house.”

The brand itself and the experience of the brand is one in the same thing, Bassil says. The industry has to now think so much more broadly than it used to. 

“We can't just put a tele ad like you did 30 years ago and people went and bought your product. Your online experience, your retail experience, your call centre experience… it's all the brand."

The agency has just hired a new head of social, PR and influence as it launches its practice Chemistry Set, Bassil says.

“If you want to be a brand that Australians love, you have to be where those people are. And we’re in different places than we were before. That’s going to be a real step change for us and a big part of our future."

Bassil came home from London early last year to join as CEO, with transformation plans for Clemenger.

Clemenger’s chairman Robert Morgan told Bassil his legacy agency of putting Australian creativity on the world stage had lost its way and he needed someone to take it into the future, and he wanted her to do it.

Bassil signed her contract the next day. 

“With all the senior people I've hired, I've wanted a new perspective to come into the agency, and for it to be a diverse one.

“I'm a Lebanese woman born in Australia, our CSO Simon (Wassef) is half Egyptian/ half Greek, Adrián is a Mexican immigrant who at six years old moved to the middle of Queensland.”

The senior leadership team have all been overseas and have worked in different digital places, which is rare, Bassil says.

"We represent Australia in a different way and we’re all Aussies as well. We're not just talking to middle class white Australians - they're not the whole country."

"We're trying to get people to change their behaviour, vote on a referendum, think about something in a different way. We can't just be talking to ourselves all the time."

Australian advertising has been so focused on the North Shore of Sydney or the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne for far too long, Flores says.

He grew up in the country, outside Toowoomba.

“It's interesting when you’ve been an outsider your whole life starting to see Australian culture changing, being more inclusive of people. There's always voices that have been marginalised in our society.

“It’s a very interesting time now for the country as we start to see more of that come through.”

The agency is starting to see that in some of the pitches they’re getting from clients at the moment.

“How are we talking to this changing face of Australia? We’re modernising our approach and being cognisant of the change that's happening," Flores says.

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